Interview with Ami Khanom, United Kingdom, Bedfordshire
Hi Ami, How do you identify yourself?
I'm a very happy person, focused and productive. My family and my work are my passions. I'm a natural workaholic from which I get a lot of pleasure. I'm a very private person, but I'm sociable and positive. I'm also quite practical and direct.
People who are direct are sometimes misunderstood and even feared. Do you find that?
I'm often the one people turn to
Not at all. I'm often the one people turn to, actually. I think it's because even though I'm direct, I would never do or say anything to hurt you. People trust me because they can say anything to me and it will go no further.
Sounds to me like you're a "giver." What do you need for yourself?
I need space, and I'm very lucky that I have it. I also like to have my own timetable. In some respects I regard this as quite selfish. On the other hand, I can be very busy working, but if my family need me for something, I will be there.
Tell me about your family?
That's different for our community, where everybody likes to know everybody
My parents are first generation, originally from Bangladesh. My family, parents, siblings and the next generation are central to a lot of what I do. Beyond that, I tend to keep to myself. That's different for our community, where everybody likes to know everybody.
What are the other differences in your community?
No matter where we are in the world, as families, we pull together
The Bengali community generally doesn't lose family ties. No matter where we are in the world, as families, we pull together. Parents of a boy will nearly always live with a son. When girls get married, the vast majority are still going to live where their husbands live. I’ve known career girls who’ve changed jobs and moved to where the husband lives. However, things are changing. Most people accept that women work in full or part-time careers. Women are becoming stronger, which can manifest itself in some unexpected ways. There are women who have made a choice to cover with a hijab. They see this as an expression of strength, "Why should someone look at me when I don’t want to be looked at?" That’s one take. Then you’ve got women who wear a headscarf and that’s their identifier of being Muslim. Most 30-something girls now have businesses or careers. The rest of their life is very similar to western society. Though drinking in public is not a norm yet. And you don’t really have open relationships where you might introduce your girlfriend or boyfriend to your parents. That’s not a norm yet.
How do you go about dating then? Do arranged marriages still exist?
Arranged marriages do not exist in the original sense. They’re more introductions. As for discussing your relationships, it's about discretion. You might say to your parents, "I want to marry this person." Your parents know this person is your boyfriend or girlfriend, but don’t ask questions. Some changes are brilliant, I think. But not all the changes are good.
Which changes are not good?
They must be receiving 20 calls every day. Can you imagine?
The one change I personally do not like is when elderly parents are left to look after themselves. We grow up in a community where we are all taught to look after each other. I live around the corner from my parents. One of my brothers still lives with my parents, and all of us have asked our parents to move in with us at one time or another. They don’t want to yet, as each has a different idea about who they want to live with. We are a close family unit, but with COVID, as we are not able to see each in person, we all phone my parents. I phone once or twice a day, and my siblings their partners, and the youngsters are all checking in with them. They must be receiving 20 calls every day. Can you imagine? I'm sure they get fed up with all of us.
Do you subscribe to the traditional values of the community?
I ’m an outlier amongst my peers in a number of ways
Growing up, I was going to be a solicitor. That's likely down to the fact that Asian people expect their children to become a lawyers, doctors or accountants. Then I was going to become a housewife. However, at school, I was always regarded as different. I’m an outlier amongst my peers in a number of ways. For one, among my friends, I'm the only one with a career, but I think the real difference is in my outlook. There are many people around who define themselves and one another by their education and profession. I believe you should be the best person you can be, and a degree or a lack of one does not define you.
Which career path did you decide to follow?
I have a fashion label, for which I design and manufacture high quality clothes for professional women
Two paths, actually. I run a Technology Consultancy called IT Solutions Consultancy Ltd., which offers project management services for Digital Transformation, software implementation and CRM projects; and I have a fashion label, for which I design and manufacture high quality clothes for professional women.
Talk about divergent paths... how did that happen?
I love designing classic, strong, flattering clothes that exude confidence
I grew up making my own clothes. I love designing classic, strong, flattering clothes that exude confidence and effortless chic. When I started the label, I showed the collection in Paris, but later changed gears and decided to go into retail. I also don't follow the fashion calendar. I have a core wardrobe and drop in new pieces to help build a staple wardrobe. I've had to do a lot of groundwork as I don't come from a fashion background.
The fashion industry is notoriously fickle. How do you manage?
I manufacture in London
To be honest, I haven't found that. The key is to plan. I have a list of manufacturers and suppliers I work with who can turn orders around really quickly if needed. People say everything runs late, but I go to the manufacturer 4 weeks beforehand so they’ve got me on their radar. My fabric suppliers are in Europe and I manufacture in London. All this saves me time and I am able to run my IT consultancy in the day and drop in on the manufacturers in the evening.
With your hands so full, how are you coping with COVID?
I thought about how to take my outside life back inside
I'm very organized so, I've taken it in my stride. I thought about how to take my outside life back inside. I've recouped a number of hours from traveling, and filled the day with work and supporting people I know may need to be looked after. It saddens me to hear how much death there is. What makes me feel better is to help others, like friends and neighbours just to make sure they're OK. I've also signed up to be a National Health Service volunteer -- all virtual, of course. These little bits help me. But when I think of my parents, I do get quite frightened because they're both vulnerable.
Have you been in a similar place in your life when things were not in your control?
try and pick one thing that’s normal and keep that going
When the recession happened in 2008 I got made redundant. Initially, I wasn't too disappointed because it was probably the only place I really didn’t enjoy working. So when they told me they were looking to cut the team back, it was almost a mutual agreement. But then I started applying and there were literally no jobs. I thought, oh my God, I’ll never be able to get a job, I can't earn a living, I'll lose my home. This made me feel quite useless and worthless. Then I started working for a charity and I felt a lot better. I gave myself permission to take a little time for myself and my family. That was a challenging time. Another time, a personal relationship ended, and I knew I needed time to grieve. I intentionally blocked myself off for two weeks from everyone and everything except work to give myself some head space. I spent time on my own. Just work and home, home and work. Work was the one thing that kept me going. One thing that I truly believe, if you’re going through a tough time, try and pick one thing that’s normal and keep that going. That normality really helps you climb out.
You seem to be intentional even when reacting to crises. How do you do that?
faith that everything is good out there if you make it good
I have lot’s of faith that everything is good out there if you make it good. With COVID, I have faith that things will get back to normal. You need to pace yourself because it will be slow. You need to keep yourself busy in that time. Just think, what’s the first thing you would do when you’re out of this? For me, as soon as the restaurants open, I’m going out to dinner. It is going to come to an end and we just have to be careful. But there is an end in sight.
Now, I'm going to give you 5 questions, which you have to answer very quickly with one or two words. Ready?
What offends you?
What’s one lesson do you feel most qualified to teach another person?
How to be practical
What makes you cringe?
When you're at your best, you're...
On top of the world
What change are you working on?
Separating work time from me time.
Thanks so much, Ami. Where can people reach you?
Please visit me at: